(ORDO NEWS) — To evaluate social learning opportunities, the scientists asked a group of otters to extract bait from artificial “puzzle boxes” and natural shells and shells.
It turned out that although otters can judge the attractiveness of the bait by the reaction of their neighbors, they prefer to extract food themselves, without “spying” on other otters.
Eastern clawless otters ( Aonyx cinerea ) are the smallest otters in the world, about the size of a small cat. These animals often live in pairs or family groups of up to 12 individuals and feed mainly on mollusks, crayfish and other aquatic animals.
To evaluate the social learning abilities of these otters, the scientists decided to challenge animals from the same family group with an unusual task – to extract tasty bait from both an artificial “puzzle box” and a natural crab shell or mussel shell.
A total of 20 animals participated in the experiment, and 11 of them managed to taste meat of all three types, coping not only with an artificial box with a fish meatball inside, but also with a natural shell.
As it turned out, otters use both social learning and their own experience to cope with an unusual task. Apparently, they observed the reaction of relatives when assessing the attractiveness of new prey: if neighbor otters were actively interested in crabs and mussels, the newcomer was more likely to start looking for a way to extract meat from the hard shell.
This form of social learning is called ” stimulus enhancement ” and consists in the fact that the actions of one individual draw the attention of another to some object or part of it, thereby facilitating mastering.
The experiments of scientists are aimed not only at identifying the cognitive abilities of wild animals, but also at enriching their artificial habitat and developing programs for the restoration and reintroduction of these animals into the wild.
Today, eastern clawless otters are in decline due to destruction of their natural habitat, water pollution and poaching, as well as the illegal trade in exotic animals. Fortunately, these animals are often kept in zoos and zoological centers, which can protect the species from complete extinction.
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